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Remembering A SEAL Shot Down In Afghanistan

MICHELE NORRIS, host: One of those who died in Saturday's helicopter crash was Navy SEAL, Kevin Houston. Report Curt Nickisch, of member station WBUR in Boston, spent the weekend talking with some of Houston's friends. He sent this remembrance.

CURT NICKISCH: In the living room of his house on Cape Cod, Joe Kennedy just shakes his head, remembering the very first thing Kevin Houston told him when he met him back in the fifth grade.

JOE KENNEDY: My name is Kevin and I'm going to be a Navy SEAL.

NICKISCH: A Navy SEAL. Joe didn't even know what that was, but he was impressed with the confidence of a kid raised by a single mom.

KEVIN MCCONNELL: To know your place that early in life and to relentlessly pursue it and do it is a rare thing.

NICKISCH: That's Kevin McConnell, another friend from elementary school. He learned how driven Kevin Houston was playing basketball out on the driveway.

MCCONNELL: And there was this one day when it was just me and Kev and I told him he couldn't dunk the basketball. And I bet him a steak and cheese sub at the local sub shop down the street called Buffy's. And he's like, you know, like hell I can't. And I knew he couldn't because I'd seen him try before, so I was just thinking I was getting a free sub, you know.

NICKISCH: That was late afternoon. Kevin Houston took the ball and kept trying to dunk over and over. The backboard clanged through dinner and it continued during TV afterwards. Finally, McConnell's dad needed to get some sleep, but Kevin was back the next day.

MCCONNELL: And he finally dunked the basketball. I looked at it, like, that night, but he's like, well, you just said that I couldn't dunk. You didn't say it had to be that night. So it was like a technicality. You know what I mean? So nobody got the sub, but maybe I should have gave him the sub. He didn't do it that night.

NICKISCH: Kevin was an athlete. He played high school basketball and football, where he was team captain, but teammate Joe Kennedy remembers, above all, how gregarious Kevin Houston was.

KENNEDY: Preppies, jocks, all of it, Kevin got along with everybody, absolutely everybody.

NICKISCH: Kevin also loved fast motorcycles and got in a terrible crash his senior year. In a wheelchair at graduation, he stood up from it to walk across the stage. After recovering, Kevin joined the Navy. He married, had kids. Still, each summer, he'd come back to visit his friends in Massachusetts and while deployed, he'd stay in touch through texts and voicemails like this one.

KEVIN HOUSTON: Hey, dude, thank you so much. I'm actually waiting on your t-shirts to come in right now, so I'm going to send them from here. I love you like no other and...

NICKISCH: It was back in early May when friend Jared Paquette remembers getting an unusual call from Kevin.

JARED PAQUETTE: Hey, boss, we got him. And I said, got who? He goes, we got the big dog.

NICKISCH: Osama bin Laden. Not Kevin, but other members of his Navy SEAL Team Six.

PAQUETTE: He goes, yeah, done-ski.

NICKISCH: Paquette says it was a rare moment of outward pride. Kevin told his friends so little of his secretive work. He just asked about their lives, instead. So now, this summer, while his friends were enjoying Cape Cod's sandy beaches, Kevin died in a far away land of arid shale and pitched mountainsides.

They say it gives them comfort to know Kevin died doing what he wanted to do ever since he was that little boy. Kevin Houston will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery a Navy SEAL. For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Curt Nickisch